Drag Safari in Massachusetts
I just got the March 2018 issue and read the article on the Drag Safari (“Backstage Past”). I was particularly interested in the photos of the visit to my local track in Orange, Massachusetts. While I was only 8 years old in 1955, the Orange Airport has played an important role in my life as I have lived within 5 miles of it all my life.
Now, to Wally Parks’ visit out here, there was a photo of him being interviewed by a radio reporter holding a mic with a WTAG tag, meaning the radio station in Worcester, Massachusetts, operated by the Worcester Telegram and Gazette newspaper at that time. Worcester is about 45 miles southeast of the Orange Airport. I think that photo appeared in a previous Drag Safari article in Deluxe a couple years ago, which also included a photo of the station wagon and trailer at a local Mobil station on West Main Street in Orange. I can I identify the surroundings.
But the picture in the March issue shot in “some lucky New Englander’s yard” is quite likely the home of the driving force behind the creation of the Orange Drag Strip, Jack Hartney, on Brookside Road in Orange, almost at the Athol-orange town line. I recall his house was narrow like the one shown, and a quick Google Earth look shows a house to the east matching the one in the background. And I believe Jack Hartney is the person to Wally’s right in the photo, and the car in question is likely Jack’s as well.
If you’ve seen the book Cool Cars, Square Roll Bars about the early days of New England hot rodding, you’ll know about Jack Hartney and the strength of his efforts to get sanctioned racing up here. Mr. Hartney passed on a few years ago, but there should be online references should you wish to check them out. He was one of the very first members of NHRA.
I started going to the Orange drags in 1964, should have gone sooner. Raced a few times in 1967 and 1968 myself, joined the NETA in late 1968 after subscribing to both Drag News and National Dragster at the end of 1967. Was given a copy of those publications by someone I met at Orange in 1967, and I see him occasionally at New England Dragway. He still has and still races the same car he had at Orange, a ’66 Caprice once dubbed “Ole Yella.”
In recent years, there’s been an Orange Drag Strip Reunion event put on by some folks who weren’t even born when Orange was in regular use, from 1954 to 1968, with a few races in 1970 until an airplane crash on a race day, unrelated to drag activity, put an end to use of the local airport for drag races. They do a great job of the nostalgia angle on a 330-foot-long course at a nearby airport. The first two reunions were at the Orange Airport itself; Jack Hartney and many other oldtimers attended the first one. See dragreunion.com if interested.
Thanks so much for a great article and all your works over the years. I’ve read plenty of them and have hundreds of those magazines to this day, and plenty of memories, too.